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German Court Softens Ban on Attack Dogs

Germany's Constitutional Court has struck down a federal law forbidding the breeding of dangerous dogs. At the same time, the country's highest court said a ban on the import of four breeds of attack dogs was legal.


Not for import in Germany: pit bull

The decision of the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe comes three years after Germany introduced a law against importing and breeding aggressive attack dogs. The court's first panel ruled the law regulating the breeding of four types of attack dogs was a state issue and therefore the federal government had no right to pass legislation on the subject.

The ban on importing recognized attack dogs, however, was upheld by the court, which found that the law served to protect the general health and well-being of its citizens and therefore fell within the government's legislative jurisdiction. According to the law, anyone found guilty of importing pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers and bull terriers faces a hefty fine and up to two years in prison.

Deadly mauling

The general ban on attack dogs was introduced after the issue rose to front-page prominence in 2001 when a six-year-old boy was mauled to death by two attack dogs at a playground in Hamburg. Further series of severe maulings in the following months motivated angry citizens' groups to petition local and state governments for tougher rules for dangerous dogs. Leash and muzzle laws were required of certain breeds, owners were required to attend obedience training with their pets and obtain special permits if their dog breed was considered especially prone to aggression.

The 2001 law was the final step in the campaign against the aggressive dogs. Despite differing opinions from experts over whether the breed or the breeder made dogs aggressive, the government decided to not to take any risks and forbid both the import and the breeding of the four types of dogs.

Partial victory for dog breeders

Tuesday's split ruling represents a partial success for dog breeders and owners who had appealed to the Constitutional Court for a review of the 2001 law. In November, 52 plaintiffs challenged the ban on importing and breeding of attack dogs, claiming it was a blanket measure that violated their constitutional right to practice whichever profession they wished and that breed alone did not determine whether a dog was dangerous.

While rejecting the ban on breeding as a states' rights issue, the judges upheld the government's classification of the four breeds as especially dangerous for society. Compared to other dog breeds, the four types are "disproportionately involved in maulings," the court deemed. As a result they do not fall under the same categories as other dogs and the government can apply different rules to their owners.

Court President Hans-Jürgen Papier said the ruling on the federal law contained important implications for further hearings on state legislation, which will almost certainly follow now that the 16 states have been given the authority to pass laws forbidding the breeding of the attack dogs.